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The Marketing Supply Chain Field Guide: Part 10 – Materials in the Chain (continued)

Marketing Materials in the Supply Chain - eLynxx Solutions

Last week we began dissecting the catch-all term “marketing materials” to discover just what kinds of items may be flowing through your marketing supply chain. Even as we began our exploration with some of the more common, old-standby sort of marketing communication tools, we saw that there was much more complexity than the simple and bland-sounding description of “marketing materials” would lead us to believe.

This week we’ll explore unique items that may not commonly be thought of as marketing materials, but certainly are flowing through your marketing supply chain right now.

So Unforgettable We Forget It’s a Marketing Material

They’re pretty hard to escape in your daily routine, and if they’re done well, they’re hard to forget. Interestingly enough, many of us get so wrapped up in their function we forget that at their core, signage, point of purchase and merchandising displays are indeed marketing materials. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken with fellow marketers and when the subject of printed marketing materials comes up they say something like “we really don’t do too many printed pieces anymore, most of our brochures and literature are digital now. Then I say “well what about your point of sale and merchandising materials?” and they get the “oh…yeah” expression on their faces. The whole point of these materials is to get attention, build brand presence and make customers buy. If that’s not a marketing material I don’t know what is.

So why don’t people think point of sale, display, merchandising and signage materials at their core level? One possible explanation is because marketing has become so fragmented and specialized based on function. There may be a team for displays and a team for collateral and a team for this, that and the other thing. Another explanation is simply that some forms of marketing communication tools are elevated in importance because the function they serve is seen as more important or their creation and management is considered more complex than others. Everything from copy to artwork to construction of display materials tends to be project specific. Often times multiple versions are required. More than one vendor or service provider may be involved and specifications are certainly crucial. On the surface a POS display may look more imposing than a product flier and there may be more people involved with it. While both are highly specific, target-focused marketing communication tools can be complex to coordinate, source, produce and manage.

So Important It Often Outshines the Product Itself

Every year around the holidays you are bound to hear stories about how someone’s child tore open a toy, took it out of the package, and then proceeded to be more enamored with the box than what was in it. It’s funny when you think of your friend being mad that they dropped 50 bucks on something their kid found less interesting than its packaging, but it also makes a point about how important packaging can be to attracting consumers to, making them want to buy, and then buy a product. Packaging has always been important to branding and marketing, but in today’s cluttered world, packaging is more complex and important than ever. To a marketer, the product really is the package and the package is more important than what’s inside it. Because of this close tie to the product, the packaging dictates how a product is shipped and stored or is designed around how it will be shipped and stored. Packaging may be considered more in the realm of product development. But let’s make no mistake about it, packaging is physical, graphic communication. It is intended to gain attention, make clear brand identification, encourage purchase and communicate usage and other important information. Packaging is a marketing material.

Perhaps even more than display materials, packaging is extremely complex and often highly customized. There may be multiple layers of packaging – like a bottle with a label on it, placed inside of a box with an informative insert included and a branded outer wrapper around the whole thing. Each element may come from a different manufacturer. Packaging may have to adhere to government regulations for labeling or notices. There are often multiple variations on size, shape or method merchandising in a retail environment, and packaging is often required to change because of new promotions or product evolution. With all of this information in mind, it’s easy to understand why packaging is part of the marketing supply chain mix and why it is important to manage packaging projects with tools built for the job.

So Much Fun We Forget Their Real Purpose

Let’s pretend that we’re walking through a trade-show and there are two different companies pitching the same basic thing. Both have nice looking professional displays and friendly looking staff. Company A has some really cool giveaways and novelties. Company B does not. Which booth do you go in first? Be honest! Chances are you’ll go to the booth that has the swag first. Chances also are that even after going into both companies’ booths, you’ll remember Company A down the road because that knick-knack they gave you is still sitting on your desk. Promotional giveaways, or advertising specialties as they are often called, are definitely marketing materials. They may not tell a big story or convey lots of benefits, but they say something about the personality of the organization. They make a personal connection and they’re memorable. But when many of us think about marketing materials we often forget about promotional materials. Why is that? Perhaps because once again we don’t connect with the term; giveaways are fun, the term seems boring.

If your organization is designing and sourcing branded tchotchkes for the purposes of connecting with and influencing prospects and customers, then they are items in your marketing supply chain. Granted, some promotional giveaways are fairly simple and are more personalized than fully custom-made. However some giveaways, especially those intended to stand out and make a big impact, can be rather involved and truly custom-built. But even in the case of simpler items, managing the project like any other in the marketing supply chain makes sense to control brand assets, track progress and get the job done on-time and on-budget.

So Big We Get Lost in Their Size

It was not all that long ago that large-format graphic communication required either custom painting or many individually-printed sheets assembled as one large installation. While both sign painters and traditional multi-sheet billboards still exist today, modern printing technology and new developments in printable substrates have made large-format graphic communication more accessible, adaptable and affordable than ever. Depending upon where the large-format item is being installed, it might be easy to forget that it is first and foremost a marketing communication tool and therefore a marketing material. For instance, your organization may be ordering a new fleet of delivery vans. The plan is to have these new vans covered in branded vehicle wraps. You certainly wouldn’t make such an investment without ensuring that the colors, logos or messaging was correct, would you?

Large-format communication makes a big impact at a big price. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the scale and scope of producing such projects. At the same time it’s also imperative that such projects are handled as marketing communication projects and that all parties involved with them are on the same page. The scale, cost, complexity, specifications and the people involved in large-format specialty projects are often unique to the project. One missed step or lost detail can be enough to take the project from colossal impact to colossal disaster. Managing large-format printing and graphic communication projects requires tools that can adapt to their scope and needs to ensure desired results are achieved.

While this installment wraps up our look at the kinds of materials that may be flowing through your marketing supply chain, it is by no means exhaustive. Just as we have said in the other marketing supply chain areas we have explored, there is no one across-the-board model to follow. The best that can be done is to go deeper than the surface, pull back the cover and expose a broad sampling of the many elements that comprise a simple term like marketing materials. You may never consider some of the materials we have discussed in this and the previous installment. You might use some that we didn’t discuss and certainly your organization’s mix of materials is going to vary from that of your competition. That’s why, over the past four decades, we have come to believe in the use of tools that are not only purpose-built for the job, but also tailored to the organization using them.

Join us next week as we explore the variety of vendors and partners you might encounter when managing projects in your marketing supply chain.